For the past 21 years, we have published Michigan Turkey Tracks twice a year. Copies are sent to key Michigan DNR administrators, outdoor publications, other media, outdoor writers, selected politicians including the governor, our members, Michigan United Conservation Clubs administrators, and the general public.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs has recently changed how they manage the organization. There is an Executive Board and a Conservation Policy Board. I am one of three people on this board who represents a 12-county block in the northwestern tip of the lower peninsula. Being on the board also gives our organization a voice.
On 12/10/16 I attended the Policy Board meeting at Cadillac. I had asked for half an hour to inform and discuss important issues that should be of concern to MUCC. I was granted 10 minutes on the agenda. The following is what I intended to present, but with limited time was only able to present a few thoughts.
What’s Going On?
Many hardcore turkey hunters spend up to a month and a half during the spring scouting for and hunting Wild Turkeys. Collectively there are many observations of what we see and hear and at the same time what we no longer see or hear. How many other people are in the woods and fields at first and last light this time of the year?
Several decades ago at the first light, we could always count on a Barred Owl or two to get a gobbler to respond to their calls. It was always fun to call up a Barred Owl using your voice. It would be in the trees above you making all kinds of weird calls. Only rarely do you hear one anymore. Several decades ago it was common to hear a Whip-poor-will or two with its rapid fire call just before first light. When they quit calling the gobblers would begin gobbling. Many of us have not heard a Whip-poor-will in years. When is the last time you heard one? During the early years, the chorus birds and frogs were so loud at first light that it was difficult to hear a far off gobbler. Each year the chorus becomes quieter than the year before. We have documented this in Turkey Tracks. The results? SILENCE!
Several times we have warned in Turkey Tracks that Snowshoe Hares were disappearing. The response? SILENCE! Over a decade later the DNR contracted a $118,709 study by Michigan State University. They found that 49 percent of the traditional habitats in the lower peninsula were now absent of Snowshoe Hares and 27 percent in the upper peninsula. If our warnings had been acted on, it’s possible that by providing cover and food, Snowshoe Hares may still be present in those areas.
When Wild Turkeys first appeared in northern Michigan, we wondered why during spring there were no turkeys in the hardwood areas within the State Forests. Why were Woodcock, Ruffed Grouse and other woodland species experiencing such a rapid decline in population? We began a partnership with the Michigan Conservation Foundation and began examining most of the state forest compartments in the northern lower peninsula. We found that the habitat necessary to sustain wildlife species from Woodcock to deer was lacking on most state forest compartments. A series of articles appeared in Turkey Tracks documenting the problem on both state and national forest in Michigan. The result? SILENCE!
When the U.S. Forest Service began the planning process for the 1,00,000 acre Huron-Manistee National Forest, we responded to many of the proposals. As examples, 23,000 acres of Deer Emphasis Areas (winter yarding areas) would disappear. 2000 acres of managed wildlife openings would disappear (some of which we helped to create). Aspen had declined by 35 percent, and an additional 40,000 acres would disappear. We noted that 30 percent of 70 songbirds dependent on aspen are declining. 25,000 acres of Oak would be clearcut and not allowed to regenerate. 176,00 acres of Old Growth would double by 2035 with no habitat management allowed. A featured management species would be the Ruffed Grouse, which would be managed for two grouse per square mile. The new emphasis would be on endangered species such as butterflies, bats, plovers, and rattlesnakes. It seemed odd to us that they manage for these species while other species would become endangered, instead of a balanced management plan for all forest species. All of this plus our final appeal appeared in a series of Turkey Tracks. Results? SILENCE!
The new emphasis would be on endangered species such as butterflies, bats, plovers, and rattlesnakes. It seemed odd to us that they manage for these species while other species would become endangered, instead of a balanced management plan for all forest species. All of this plus our final appeal appeared in a series of Turkey Tracks. Results? SILENCE!
Over these many years while we were fighting for every public acre the other Wild Turkey organization was silent. Every few years they come up with a new initiative. The latest one is Save The Habit, Save The Hunt. It has a hollow sound considering their past support.
Not so long ago good numbers of Wild Turkeys were present in the Pigeon River Country State Forest which is very rare in our other state forests. The visionaries who established the Pigeon envisioned it as the last remaining wild place in the northern lower peninsula, a place of eagles, elk and plentiful numbers of woodland wildlife, the Big Wild. A group of self-interested people had overrun the Pigeon. The forest manager had requested a Director’s Order. The fishery biologist had also requested one, both because of the problems encountered. No order came. A series appeared in Turkey Tracks titled Paradise Lost to reclaim the Pigeon. The result? SILENCE!
As hunters, a portion of our license fees is restricted to be used to manage species like deer, turkey, waterfowl, etc. by law. We have found that use of these funds is being diverted to many fringe benefits. We have addressed this in Turkey Tracks. Results? SILENCE! (More on this on a future date).
Deer hunting has become very poor generally on our public forests. As a result hunter numbers have declined significantly. We contacted the DNR to find out what the success rate was for an antlered kill on public land. They have no idea. Add restrictions such as antler-point restriction and hunting turns from incredibly poor to pathetic. We have the opportunity to talk to public land hunters. They have said that the good point is that there are so few hunters. The bad point is that there are so few deer and if a buck is ever seen it is a small buck not legal for taking. A retired DNR wildlife biologist who is a hardcore hunter of state forest land advised that during this past season, while on stand during both the archery and rifle seasons he did not see a single deer. Articles have appeared in Turkey Tracks detailing the plight of the public land hunter. The result? SILENCE!
A lot has been written about Recruitment and Retention that gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling. A new hunter can be recruited but will not be retained under the conditions outlined in this article.
We Must Do Better
Those of us who are living in the 7th and 8th decade on this Earth have seen game populations, and other wildlife declines to be a fraction in our lifetimes. What some of us do isn’t for us but for what future generations will inherit. We owe generations yet unborn the opportunity to experience the wonders of the outdoor world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could call up a Barred Owl, hear the song of a Whip-poor-will, watch a Bald Eagle soar, or call a flock of Canada Geese into the decoys?
Obviously, I could not present this in 10 minutes, but most would probably not understand anyway.